For the 50th Anniversary of the creation of BLMC, we’ve been running a series of features to celebrate, reflect and inform about the achievements of British Leyland Motor Corporation. To find out what you think the greatest legacy of the company is, we asked you to vote for what you think are the greatest cars produced by the company.
It’s amazing to see just how much love – some of it ironic – that there is out there for the products which the company produced between 1968 and 1986 (when the initials BL disappeared and were replaced by the Rover Group). What we found in a pair of polls, both on here and in our Facebook Group, is that you’re massively well informed, and still extremely passionate and engaged about the cars.
What we’ve produced in the past two months of voting is, hopefully, the definitive Top 10 list of BLMC’s greatest cars as voted by the Internet’s most knowledgeable experts. It’s not without controversy – as you can read in the comments below, there were a number of cars that you think we should have included, even though they weren’t explicitly developed or engineered by BLMC.
So, here it is – as voted for by you:
AROnline’s Top 10 cars of BLMC
That the Rover came top should not have been a surprise. It’s a consistent winner on AROnline and, in many ways, is by far the best car that BL ever produced. We all know why, too. It looks progressive, is a fabulous all-round performer and had some very clever engineering behind it.
Today, the Rover SD1 is a popular classic car. But it’s a car that’s loved by you all in spite of itself. Notwithstanding the dreadful build quality of the early cars, and the irreparable damage it the SD1 did to Rover’s reputation, it’s probably as much to blame for BLMC’s downfall as the Austin Allegro.
Why? It cost an absolute fortune to develop, demanded a new factory in which to build it and, as a result, by the time the money started pouring in from those early sales, BLMC had long since needed a financial bail-out from the Government in the wake of the 1973 Energy Crisis. As a consequence, BLMC no longer had enough money to develop the much-needed replacements for the Triumph Dolomite, Morris Marina and many others.
It could be argued that the Range Rover is absolutely nothing to do with BLMC. It was largely developed by the Rover Company and, although the final two years of development were on Leyland’s watch, it was pretty much set in stone. Thankfully, Donald Stokes and his money men more than saw the Range Rover’s potential, and ensured that the project was finished.
Launched in 1970, it took everyone quite a while to cotton on to the Range Rover’s significance. Not least BLMC itself, which let this highly popular car soldier on by itself without any meaningful development throughout the rest of the decade. And when the improvements came, BLMC had long since failed, and it came under the auspices of Land Rover Limited – a subsidiary set-up after Sir Michael Edwardes took over the reins in 1977.
So, it’s probably a cheek to say the Range Rover is BLMC’s second-greatest car. Still, you can’t argue with its overall greatness – it’s a design icon that changed the world, and which still casts a long shadow over the entire British motor industry today. We love the Range Rover, but unlike the SD1 which it trails in this poll, its brilliance remains undiminished to this day.
The Metro is the perfect example of what the post-BLMC British motor industry did so well: create a perfectly good car on limited resources, from carry-over parts and in response to a crisis. The Metro may have been built from carry-over Mini parts, but it was a great piece of engineering that was well-packaged, and easily good enough to worry the best of its (well-financed) rivals.
Today, it’s now an all-time classic, thanks to its rarity and cultural positioning within the era in which it lived. Like the top two cars in this list, much of the Metro’s engineering was overseen by Spen King, and its late-life facelift (transforming it from the ADO88 into the LC8) was performed by David Bache’s team.
Was it really as good as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo that it was up against at the time of its launch? Oh yes, you better believe it!
Like the Range Rover in second position, the Jaguar XJ actually owes very little to BLMC at all. But it was sold under the BL Roundel during the 1970s and, if it wasn’t for Donald Stokes and John Barber canning the potential in-house rival in the form of the Rover P8, the XJ may not have enjoyed quite such an easy ride into its greatest years in the early 1980s.
The XJ was voted for so highly because of its peerless chassis engineering and elegance that has withstood the passage of time far more than just about any other car in this line-up. It suffered during the BLMC years (and not really because of BLMC), but emerged out the other end intact, thanks to John Egan’s guidance into private ownership in 1984.
Its only really negative legacy is that the cars which replaced it were all cast from the same mould, sending Jaguar down a path towards retro that it only really broke out of in 2007 with the launch of the XF.
It’s interesting so see how the Maxi has outperformed its mid-market bedfellows from the BLMC stable. Perhaps this is because it was a more progressive – and timeless – car than the Allegro, Marina and Dolomite. Certainly the five-door, five-speed hatchback format makes the plain Jane superhero of the BLMC line-up the best to live with today.
The Maxi was creator Alec Issigonis’s parting gift from BMC to Leyland, and it proved almost impossible to facelift, improve or directly replace. The Maxi’s other big legacy to BLMC was a negative one – its existence as a commercial under-performer probably discouraged management to develop the potentially-excellent Allegro into the five-door hatchback it so clearly deserved to be.
Yes, the Austin Maxi missed its market brief by a country mile, and sold a fraction the number of cars as the Ford Cortina, and wasn’t as good to drive as its closest rival, the Renault 16 – but today, it’s likeable and deserving of its fifth position.
The Princess is the archetypal BLMC car, even if it was launched after the company was bailed out by the British Government. Unlike the Maxi above, the Princess was – and is – a great looking car that was developed throughout its life into a near-brilliant family car.
Had it received the hatchback it was crying out for, and had the O-Series engine from launch, there’s no doubt that it would have finished much higher up this list. Like the top-placed Rover SD1, the Princess was also saddled with indifferent build quality and received a pasting from the press – probably the biggest missed opportunity of the lot…
Often cited as the car that typifies British Leyland more than any other – beautiful to behold, drive and listen to, but compromised by its unreliable engine – the Triumph Stag is another car that wasn’t really steered by BLMC as much of its development was completed by the time the merger happened in 1968.
Despite that, it symbolises missed opportunities more than any other car on this list. Forget notions that it should have been powered by the Rover V8, though. It has more character with the Triumph V8 under the bonnet. Besides, Rover didn’t have the capacity to put its engine under the bonnet of the Stag as well as all its own cars. We love it, but there’s no denying that the Stag is as much a failure as any car on this list.
Here’s the daddy. The car that all of BLMC’s hopes and aspirations were pinned upon and, in true style, it didn’t so much miss its target, but not realise there was one at all, and went on holiday instead. The Austin Allegro wasn’t a bad car, but it was far from good, and as such, as the replacement for the country’s best-selling car, it was a shoddy effort, and a commercial failure.
In a car market that was waking up to style, the frumpy old Allegro lacked pizzazz and, thanks to being a portly young thing, it was slow and thirsty compared with its rivals – and that included the car it replaced, the Austin 1300.
A lack of hatchback wasn’t a big deal at launch, but it did show that BLMC’s management was capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Why? Because a year after its launch, the Volkswagen Golf showed them how it’s done, rendering the Allegro the product of previous generation. And it’s not as if BLMC didn’t understand hatchbacks, as the Maxi clearly demonstrated. Still, it’s not a bad classic car today…
The Triumph Dolomite was a classy little number that anticipated the car market’s move to premium small cars decades before it happened. Forget the Vanden Plas 1500 – this is where class lies in the BLMC mid-market line-up. Even now, it’s hard not to cry bitter tears of regret at this fact that this car was the end of the line for Triumph as an independent engineering and manufacturing concern.
It’s a shame that the Dolomite wasn’t developed by BLMC more thoroughly during its life instead of being taken for granted. Yes, the Sprint’s 16-valve head was a great legacy, but it was far from perfected when it went on sale. Furthermore, the potential of that engine was never realised thanks to BL’s sports car brand confusion and ultimate abandonment.
The Marina was a good car. There, we’ve said it. Not in terms of how it drove or performed, but the way in which it was conjured up in such a short space of time, and from so many carry-over parts. As the BLMC empire crumbled throughout the 1970s, this cheaply-developed and simply-conceived car quietly got on with the job in hand, becoming the corporation’s best-selling car this side of the Mini.
And yes, it didn’t sell as well as the Ford Cortina or Escort, but it soundly trounced its Rootes Group and Vauxhall rivals, which is quite an achievement, given relative development budgets. So, a good car, a profitable one, too – it’s only major sin was that it remained in production almost a decade too long.
Your vote for BLMC’s Top 10 cars: what have we learned?
If nothing else, you love a V8, and you’re partial to a bit of Spen King, allied with David Bache. All three cars had this pair’s fingerprints all over them, and of them, two are generally regarded to be all-time design greats. Sadly, only one of the three – the Range Rover – has endured the test of time extending a massive influence over the product range of its maker today, and the SUV market as a whole.
Interestingly, of the cars specifically created by BLMC for BLMC’s future, beyond the SD1, it’s the Princess that comes out in second place, with the Austin Allegro and Morris Marina scraping into the bottom end of the Top 10 below that. The products of Jaguar and Triumph – with very little post-merger input – are much more highly regarded, which perhaps reflects the all-time classic status of cars such as the Jaguar XJ6/XJ12, Triumph Stag and Dolomite.
It’s also clear as day that – from the safety of 50 years’ worth of hindsight – in sinking so much resource into the Rover SD1 in its formative years, BLMC denied us the 1970s replacements for these more desirable cars, which arguably could have sealed its future prosperity. Never more than now has the non-appearance of the Triumph SD2 and ADO77 hurt so much.
- Here’s what you said when we asked you to vote for the all-time greatest BMC>MGR cars back in 2004. It’s an interesting list…